It wasn’t the best way for Superintendent John Barge to kick off his campaign. Shortly before he rolled out his campaign at Smyrna’s City Hall, we noticed that his team had misspelled a pretty crucial word on his website: Governor. We’ll let you see for yourself.
But that quickly-corrected goof aside, Barge kicked off his run against Gov. Nathan Deal with a few dozen supporters and some novel ideas. He didn’t offer many specifics – hardly any, actually – but he talked of an evolving platform based on three E’s: Education, Ethics and Economic development.
The public funding of education has been so undervalued under Deal that students in one school district are only in class for 144 days, far off the old standard of 180. He said “questionable” ethics under the Deal regime have undermined the state’s integrity. And he said an improved public education system can erode Georgia’s stubborn jobless rates.
When pushed, though, Barge couldn’t offer many details. When asked what changes were needed to stiffen Georgia’s ethics policy and make government more transparent, for instance, he said: “Have a good leader who was willing to do it.” And when the topic veered from those three E’s, he had even less to say.
“I’m not an expert on that,” he said to a question on healthcare policy. “We’re going to put a panel of experts to look at that issue and see where we go and how we go from there.”
He did offer a few more defined policy points. When questioned about potential fixes to the HOPE scholarship, the lottery-funded program facing increasing demand, he said he favors a sliding scale system that would give students more financial support based on their grade point average.
“If you truly want to reward academic excellence,” he said, “put it on a scale.”
He wants to decentralize some of the programs under the governor, an unsubtle nod to his icy relationship with Deal. As for how he plans to increase public school funding without raising taxes, he said the state can dip into its growing surplus and make cuts to agencies doing “duplicative” services, though he wouldn’t elaborate on what those were.
“It’s how you spend what you have,” he said.
But his biggest pitch was a change in tenor compared to Deal. When asked how he and Deal differ, he offered this:
“A life lived in reality. I’ve been a teacher and I’ve had to work for everything I’ve had … I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck.”
The governor, he suggested, had not. Which will likely spur Deal’s camp to remind voters of his background as the son of two public school teachers and a military veteran who got his start as a country lawyer.
An economy that sent more people to the workforce instead of the classroom, tougher requirements for financial aid, and a higher bar for admissions are among the factors that contributed to a drop in enrollment at the state’s public colleges and universities for the second year in a row.